In a letter published in the November 24th edition, Jessica Hall urged HCN to “take a deeper look at water issues in California.” Around the same time there were several significant developments in the world of California water. And while GOAT is not the proper forum for a “deep” analysis, we can make readers aware of those developments and point you toward sources where you can find more information.
The California legislative analyst released a report on California’s Water Supply in late October which some hope will help shake up the world of California water. The Analyst called for “fundamental changes” in California’s water rights system. Part of that reform would be state groundwater regulation and a state-run well permitting system. According to the Analyst, California is one of only two states in the West that don’t have state-run groundwater permitting. The other state is Texas which some of us consider a southern state.
The lack of groundwater regulation has allowed irrigation and other interests to exploit groundwater at will. But when a few years ago an entrepreneur announced plans to drill a well and export groundwater to Nevada counties began to step into the void, passing groundwater ordinances. But county regulation has created a chaotic situation and most Northern California counties have yet to put any system in place to regulate groundwater. As a result landowners have been able to drill unregulated wells which appear to be tapping underground streams interconnected with surface flow. This has sometimes had a dramatic effect. In the Shasta River Valley, for example, Big Springs – a volcanic spring thought to originate on Mt. Shasta, - used to flow about 120 cubic feet per second.(cfs) year around. Then the landowner where the massive spring emerges drilled two irrigation wells not far from where the Springs emerge. Big Springs now flows at 20 cfs.
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Jim Eischeid’s letter to HCN in the November 24th edition pointed out the irony that “the large majority of those ranchers get sweet subsidized deals on the use of the public lands for grazing, and yet they vilify the efforts to restore the wolf on those very same lands.” Eischeid then goes to the heart of the reason why public land grazing is environmentally destructive. It is the failure of ranchers to maintain the tradition of riding the range and moving the herd that results in these cattle hanging out in riparian areas where they munch willows and aspen as well as grass, deposit their waste directly into the streams and trample stream banks.
This is also true of Northern California where I live. In the old days, ranch teenagers spent months in the mountains each summer moving the herds and protecting them from predators. Often they were alone in the wilderness for weeks on end. These real cowboys developed a deep bond with the wild lands – the very bond which livestock organizations still talk about but which is increasingly rare in ranching communities. If the government agencies required range riding and other active management practices necessary for grazing to be done in an environmentally responsible manner we would not need to buy out grazing permits because many ranchers would abandon their permits as not “penciling out” – i.e. not worth the cost of management. Undoubtedly those ranch families which really cherish the Old West lifestyle would once again begin riding the range – or having the teenagers in the family take on the job. Perhaps this would result in a new generation of ranchers who value wild lands and wild critters like those old timers who have now mostly passed on.
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Some of the land recently marked for drilling in Utah may be pulled from the oil and gas auction block. In late summer and early fall, six resource management plans were rushed through at a break neck speed, opening up 80 percent of the 11 million acres in the planning areas for energy development.
Cultural and wilderness conservation groups, as well as other government agencies like the National Park Service, argued that the planning process was too fast and that they did not have time to adequately respond to the radical changes that the plans outlined for Utah's public lands. NPS officials were particularly concerned that air quality within the parks would degrade if the lands surrounding them were opened for drilling.
At the time, these grievances seemed to fall on deaf ears at the BLM. After some urging from U.S. Senators, meetings with NPS and pressure from the incoming Obama administration (not to mention plummeting energy prices), however, some of the lands that ring Utah's national parks will be withdrawn from the oil and gas lease sales slated for later this month.
This is a small step backward for the Bush administration's last minute drill, drill, drill! campaign. However, it's not exactly cause for celebration. The change -- withdrawing 38,000 acres from drilling -- is a minor adjustment to majorly flawed plans, and the vast majority of the contested land is still going to be leased on December 19.
The Bush administration is attempting yet another under-the-radar rules change on its way out the door (watchdog Propublica keeps a complete list of other such changes). This time it's wresting away Western states' abilities to manage their bighorn sheep populations. Wildlife management has historically been the responsibility of state wildlife agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Now, the Department of Agriculture wants jurisdiction over bighorn sheep transplants on public land.
Because wild bighorns tend to catch deadly diseases from domestic sheep, there have been major legal battles over allowing sheep producers to graze their flocks in bighorn territory (see our story Sheep v. Sheep).
The secret agreement, which was penned in September and revealed this week, would require, among other things, that wild bighorns be tested for diseases by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service before they're released on national forests, and that the Forest Service approve such releases.
Bighorn advocates are outraged, saying that the move benefits sheep ranchers at the expense of wild sheep, and undermines state authority over wildlife.
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Here's one more addition to the list of Western industries being affected by the economic downturn: coal. Peabody Energy -- the world's biggest coal company, made famous as the villain in the John Prine song "Paradise" -- has announced that it is freezing all hiring at its three Wyoming coal mines. The company said in an letter to its employees that it plans to reevaluate all its capital projects and defer or cancel many of them.
And that's a real shame, because a job in coal mining offers the opportunity to swing a pick alongside some smokingly hot -- and scantily dressed -- co-workers.That, at least, seems to be the take-away message of this GE ad promoting clean coal.
The classic coal-mining song "Sixteen Tons" is playing in the background, but viewers of the ad never get to hear the chorus, which goes like this: "You haul sixteen tons, and what do you get? / You get another day older and deeper in debt." That's probably because the ad's producers realized that the chorus is no longer accurate. Nowadays you haul sixteen tons and what do you get? You get really, really, ridiculously good-looking.
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When I was in high school, my history teacher assigned each member of my class to interview someone who had lived through the Great Depression to better understand how life had changed during that time. I chose to interview my grandmother, who was 20 in 1929 when the stock market crashed.
I anticipated tales of woe and of desperation and Grapes of Wrath-like suffering. Instead, I got this: Things really didn’t change much around here. We hardly noticed, I guess.
It didn’t provide the dramatic story I had hoped to take back to my classmates. But it did provide a valuable lesson.
Even though the West was a key battleground in the 2008 presidential election, our issues -- public lands, water, endangered species, etc. -- didn't get a lot of attention from either candidate.
And for the past three months, the economy has dominated the news. But our issues do appear in this interesting piece by Les Blumenthal of McClatchy Newspapers.
It starts like this:
Here's the question: What does a community organizer from Chicago who spent four years in the Senate before being elected president know about spotted owls, endangered salmon, mountain bark beetles, Western water rights, old-growth forests and the maintenance backlog in the national parks?
The answer: Probably not much.
President-elect Barack Obama has offered only scattered clues as to where he stands on the most pressing public lands and endangered species issues.
And you can read the rest of it here.
We have the technology to generate electricity from renewable resources, but most of our machines, from blow driers to conveyor belts, continue to run on coal. That’s because it is easier to create renewable energy than to transport it. Rigging a new power line from, say, a remote Nevada wind farm to a population center like Las Vegas would be a logistical nightmare. Hundreds of landowners would need convincing and perhaps a few environmental groups as well. On top of all this, the existing century-old power grid is already strained to capacity.
Or at least it was until recently. According to The Wall Street Journal, American energy consumption has unexpectedly dropped. Xcel Energy Inc., which provides power to Colorado among other states, reported that home-energy use fell this fall, for the first time in 40 years. Other large utilities report similar drops. One might blame the grim economy or the vagaries of the weather, but some analysts say the plunge is a permanent trend. Traditional power companies are none too pleased about this turn of events. But there might finally be a little breathing room in those transmission lines for the renewable powers that be.
As president-elect Barack Obama goes about picking a cabinet, we hear a lot about a book of popular history that was published three years ago: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Some parallels seem almost eerie. Abraham Lincoln's main rival for the Republican nomination in 1860 was William M. Seward, a senator from New York, and Lincoln chose him for secretary of state. Barack Obama's main rival for the Democratic nomination in 2008 was Hillary R. Clinton, a senator from New York, and Obama has chosen her for secretary of state.
The presidential cabinet consists of the appointed heads of various executive departments, like State, Treasury, and Defense.
Because Lincoln's official staff consisted of just two clerks, the president had to rely on his cabinet for many functions that are now performed by the 1,800 employees of the Executive Office of the President -- policy development, budget preparation, appointment vetting, legal counsel, etc.
What hasn't changed since Lincoln's day is the political demand that the cabinet be somewhat representative of the country. Nowadays, presidential appointments are expected to reflect gender and ethnic diversity; while selecting a cabinet 16 years ago, Bill Clinton complained about who seemed to be pushing him toward quotas in his cabinet appointments.
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The feature story in the November 10th edition of HCN – Still Howling Wolf – asked: Will Westerners finally learn to live with Canis lupus? The article looks for the answer in the attitudes of a variety of Northern Rockies residents in light of a lawsuit that returned the gray wolf to federal Endangered Species Act protection and nixed state management plans in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. And while in the short term this has resulted in expressions of chagrin and hostility by trophy hunting guides and some ranchers, a careful reading of the story indicates that the wolves – if not the people whose lawsuit returned them to ESA protection - have achieved grudging acceptance by at least some of the very people who feel that wolves have negatively impacted their livelihoods.
Their reception in Oregon and Washington may not be as controversial as it has been in the Northern Rockies. The fact that wolves are recolonizing these states through natural migration and not human intervention may be one factor mitigating negative reactions. In addition, Oregon and Washington have been proactive; Oregon completed its wolf management plan in 2005 and Washington’s plan should be in place before 2010.
Another difference is that the Canis lupus is listed in these states under state endangered species laws which require protection, recovery goals and management plans.
The gray wolf has been gone so long from California that the species is not even included on The Fish & Game Department’s species lists. But that does not mean that wolves are not controversial there. Backed by scientific studies which found ample habitat and prey base, Defenders of Wildlife petitioned the federal government in 2002 to designate 16 million acres of national forests and parks in Northern California and southern Oregon as suitable wolf habitat for study and management purposes. The studies suggest the area could support as many as 500 gray wolves.
But Southern Oregon and Northern California - the Klamath Mountains (which I’ve called home since 1975), the Modoc Plateau, Southern Cascades and Warner Mountains – is a stronghold for the anti-environmental, county supremacy and property rights movements. Defenders 2002 call was not received well here and led to renewed calls for formation of the State of Jefferson as, among other things, a refuge for Old West style wolf management also known as “shoot and shovel”.
The trajectory of wolf management in the Northern Rockies, however, gives hope that even in remote Northern California and Southern Oregon Canis lupus may eventually gain acceptance - if only grudgingly - by ranchers and hunting guides. But the path to that eventuality may be as acrimonious and tortuous as it has been in the Northern Rockies.